Shooting Rests

Why Sit When You Can Stand?

On trees, pad the forend with your hand or load your right or left wrist.
Beware slippage on bark.

In pre-dawn fog and under snow-heavy conifers, I’d dogged the track to a thoroughfare muddied by prints. It led uphill, fraying through soggy thickets. Pockets of light ahead became an island of second-growth, freed of the forest’s darkness and drip. I glassed it quickly from the gloom and spied a tan rump, then others. Sifting through the head-high tangle, the elk would soon vanish. Frantically I sought antlers.

There! I dashed ahead to catch a shot alley, braced my arm on a tree and fired. The herd crashed away, a current of ribs, rumps and strong black legs ripping through the slash in exploding snow. Then all was still.

Pegging the reticle to where the bull had stood, I saw a seedling quiver. Reflexive kick. A better result than from a tree-assisted shot years earlier. As the trigger yielded, so had bark under my hand. The Nosler had dived under the brisket.

Have A Seat

Shooting standing, or offhand, is like walking backward. Given an alternative, why would you? Offhand targets have scuttled promising scores for me in competition. I’d cruise through prone, sitting and kneeling, then meet my Waterloo “awfulhand.”
Addicted to prone, I go out of my way to use it afield. I’ve taken quite a few beasts despite delays slinging up and bellying down. Even a Cape buffalo. Last fall a mule deer close enough to draw fire from most hunters trotted off as I scrambled to where I could sprawl. My .25-06 was nearly bench-steady when he paused at 300 steps. More recently, a whitetail that might have fallen to an offhand poke was doomed minutes later by my lizard-level shot through frosted grass.

Sitting and kneeling reduce ground contact and raise your center of gravity (CG). But in each you have a “tripod” base. Offhand, only your feet kiss Mother Earth, and CG tops belt level. If you’re built like me, you sway in the gentlest breeze. Without support, your arms flop on their hinges. Each heartbeat jerks the sight. Tiring muscles sag and twitch, the reticle ricocheting about your target like a fly on a barn window.

Practicing offhand in public draws ridicule. Practicing alone is no fun. So fine offhand shooting, once expected after puberty, has become rare. A rest can help.

“Wait,” you cry. “That’s cheating!” Not in the field. No sane hunter fires without support when support is at hand.

Increasingly it is. Hunting in timber, we’ve long had trees to help. Now we tote sticks and tripods in open country, where natural rests are scarce. Low positions still make sense (think ground contact, elbow support, CG). But when you’ve no time to get low — or when brush or rock or the curve of a hill blocks the bullet’s path — you must stand or decline the shot.

A folded tripod under this shooter’s arm steadies his torso behind the tripod supporting his rifle. Smart!

The Rule, Not The Exception

Always seek a rest. At a rifle range, I asked 40 hunters who’d just checked zeroes to fire offhand at a 6″ target at 100 yards. Only five hit it. The 22-inch-square backer had just 30 holes. A single hunter asked if he could brace his rifle on a post.

A standing rest belongs on your home range. If you use shooting sticks or a tripod afield, practice with them. Time yourself setting up, aiming, firing, then cycling the action and getting back on target. On safari, hunters who’ve fumbled with sticks and tripods have lost some magnificent beasts.

My rifles wear only a Brownells Latigo sling. A great help prone, sitting and kneeling, a sling has little to offer when you’re upright, as your left elbow “floats” and won’t hold tension. I fire standing only at modest distances and take advantage of natural rests.

For an inexpensive standing rest mimicking what you might find in the woods, set a couple of 8-foot round cedar posts 6 feet apart. Wire another 8-footer between them 45″ to 60″ off the ground.

In hunting garb, clutch the vertical post with your left hand and rest your rifle over it, index finger alongside or curled over the forend. Fire a group. Now hold the forend instead, bracing hand, then arm on the post. Next, let the post steady your right wrist. Now brace your right shoulder. Check targets; practice the most promising technique. A forward lean speeds recovery from recoil.

Ditto for the horizontal post. Grasp it, resting the rifle on your hand, index finger assisting. Next, hold the rifle. Keep your hand between forend and rest. Don’t let the barrel touch at all, padded or not.

Getting Shifty

You may find point of impact has shifted since you zeroed sitting at a bench. This because forward support and pressure you apply to the rifle with cheek and shoulder all affect how the rifle moves as the bullet zips down the barrel. Those forces shift when you change positions. That’s why I confirm hunting-rifle zeroes from prone with a taut sling. Point of impact commonly falls to 7 o’clock. Zero checks offhand make sense too, especially with rifles most often shot offhand.

A standing rest is a blessing when you must fire hard-kicking rifles. Offhand, your body flexes to absorb recoil. On a seat, hunched over the comb, it’s an anchor that can neither bend nor slide. Cheek and clavicle take the hit. Flinching results.

One Answer

There’s a new standing rest at my house, well sorta. Impressed by the design of Royal Stukey’s shooting bench, I bought one. It has exceeded expectations. In truth it is the only portable bench I’ve used that doesn’t wobble. At all. Credit Stukey’s “floating nut plate” leg unions, the stout, precisely machined steel and laminates, the meticulous care in finish and assembly. Under bags or my Brownlee mechanical rest, it’s motionless as a millstone in mud. You can wring out a Benchrest rifle capable of shooting “into the ones” on this bench.

So I asked Royal if he’d considered making long legs for it. “No,” he said. Then: “Would they be useful?” A few weeks after I’d provided a length measure, he shipped a set of beefy, beautifully finished legs. They spun in as easily and locked as securely as the originals. Height is just right. This tall bench is solid as a granite outcrop. Stukey sells long legs, custom-made to measure, for all his benches in service.

“You know,” he smiled, “that was a good idea. I’ve seen you shoot offhand. You need all the help you can get.”

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